KENSINGTON — The search for the sniper stalking the suburbs of the nation’s capital stretched across the country Wednesday as FBI agents converged on a home in Tacoma, Wash., with metal detectors and chain saws.
The agents, acting on information from the sniper task force, were seeking evidence related to ammunition, a senior law enforcement official in Washington, D.C., said on condition of anonymity.
The development raised hopes that investigators had a lead in the shooting spree that has left 10 people dead and three others critically wounded since Oct. 2. But the source said no arrests were expected soon.
FBI spokesman Ray Lauer in nearby Seattle confirmed the FBI search in Tacoma but refused to say why.
The back yard of the duplex was divided into grids, and agents swept metal detectors back and forth over the ground. Other crews used chain saws to remove a stump from the yard and load it onto a truck.
Neighbors said the search had been going on for much of the day. The source said the warrant was executed with the property owner’s consent.
Meanwhile, worried parents across the Washington area sent their children off to school with extra-tight hugs, defying the sniper’s warning that children are not safe “anywhere, at any time.” Thousands of others kept their kids at home.
As expected, investigators confirmed that a bus driver shot to death on Tuesday was the sniper’s 13th victim in the three-week rampage.
They also urged immigrants to come forward with any information without fear of deportation, and the governor raised the possibility of posting National Guardsman at Maryland polls on Nov. 5 unless the killer is caught.
Ballistics and other evidence connected the slaying of Conrad Johnson, 35, to the sniper, said Michael Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Investigators waited three days to reveal the threat against children, which was contained in a letter found after a shooting Saturday in Ashland, Va.
Bouchard insisted vital information was not being withheld.
“We’re all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers,” he said. He said if information is released too early, “it inhibits our ability to do the job we need to be doing.”
For the first time in three days, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose did not issue a public statement to the sniper. A news briefing was scheduled, then abruptly canceled just before word leaked of the search in Washington state.
“The investigation has taken us down different avenues and roads that we need to explore,” police spokeswoman Capt. Nancy C. Demme said without elaboration.